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(Pocket-lint) - When it comes to audio, there's no doubt in our mind that Bose is a mighty strong brand. We've been most impressed by the company's NC 700 Headphones, as one prime example, while its soundbar range has proven stylish and capable (maybe more the former than latter).
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is the out-and-out replacement for yesteryear's 700 model, the newer device adding upfiring speakers and Dolby Atmos object-based surround support as a result.
That new design feature fixes one of our main complaints about the outgoing model, so does the Soundbar 900 deliver strong enough in an increasingly competitive market, or are there still shortfalls it can't overcome?
As soundbars go, the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 is one of the most attractive models on the market. That's also one of its failings though: that glass top, while certainly pretty in daylight, is also reflective and therefore causes irksome reflections while watching during low-light viewings.
Still, the Soundbar 900 is a notable improvement over the outgoing 700 model. The addition of Dolby Atmos decoding - thanks to the two visible upward-firing speakers - really helps with height and immersion, making for a one-box solution that will enhance any TV's output for the better.
Beyond that, however, feed this soundbar music - whether through Airplay, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth - and it functions as a highly adept speaker system that's ideal for a living room setup. There's even voice control too, if that's your thing.
We've been very happy having the Bose Smart Soundbar 900 under our TV. But while it's certainly enhanced TV audio, there are competitors that offer even more - an included subwoofer included in the price, for example, to improve bass - and, given the overall price, you might find a less pretty soundbar that'll deliver a touch more for less cost.
Bose Smart Soundbar 900
- Bold and bright sound - it's also great for music
- Ease of use with HDMI eARC
- ADAPTiQ room calibration
- Built-in Alexa voice control
- Dolby Atmos object-based decoding adds to expansive soundstage
- Reflective glass top catches light from TV
- Expensive - especially if considering all accessories
- No additional HDMI input for passthrough
- Not capable of lowest bass output
- No DTS:X support
- Power cable too short (just 1.4m)
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- Dimensions: 58mm (H) x 1045mm (L) x 110mm (W) / Weight: 5.75kg
- Available in Black or Arctic White finishes
- Glass top, front metal grille
You might think soundbars can't look especially attractive, after all they're just elongated speaker enclosures, but Bose's design touch goes above and beyond what most of its competitors can muster.
That works both for and against the Soundbar 900 though: it looks very polished, with a fine metal front grille and a glass top-plate that's perfectly gap-spaced to give an extra layer of visual precision.
Problem is inherent in that material choice. Glass is naturally reflective. Soundbars live underneath TVs. TVs emit light when they're on. You can see where this issue is headed: the top of the 900 reflects what's on screen, almost like looking out over a water-filled canal. Not ideal.
In terms of visual feedback there's no on-product or on-screen menus - probably for the better, as additional light emitting would be further distracting - just a simple LED area to show when the 'bar is on, off, updating, seeking connection, and so forth. It's subtle enough to go largely unnoticed.
Connections & Controls
- Wireless connectivity: Apple Airplay 2, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi
- Voice control: Bose Voice4Video, Amazon Alexa
- Ports: 1x HDMI (eARC), 1x optical, 1x Ethernet
- Included remote control
- Bose Music app
Unlike the older 700 model, the Smart Soundbar 900 comes with an eARC HDMI. That means it can automatically handle output from associated sources if your TV also has an eARC HDMI output.
It means the setup is simple: in our example we've connected our BT TV Pro Box to our TV via HDMI 1 (as it's 4K HDR capable), then plugged the Bose soundbar into our TV's HDMI 2 port (which is eARC). When we switch on the telly - using BT's universal remote, which handles both set-top box and TV - there's a bit of flickering between the two HDMI source while the soundbar activates, then sound is output through the 'bar no quibbles.
That's the only HDMI port on the 'bar, though, so there's no way to passthrough like you can on some other competitor products (where, for example, we would plug our BT TV Pro Box into the soundbar itself, then output the full 4K HDR signal - visual and audio - through to the eARC input on the TV). Maybe the next-gen device will offer such a solution; it's handy even just for sake of saving an HDMI port on the TV - as the typical four ports is more than the number of AV devices we own already.
The Bose Smart Soundbar 900 does come with a remote control included in the box, but it's not a universal remote, so it can't control your other accessories for an all-in-one solution. As such we've largely left this remote alone, as it just busies things for us. As there's also a Bose Music app, which you can download for iOS or Android devices, additional music control and the like can be easily handled through there.
Also included in the Soundbar 900's box is an X-Men-style headset with very long cable attached. You won't be able to enhance your mind-reading powers with this, though, as it's instead used for what's called ADAPTiQ - Bose's audio calibration setup.
This room calibration tool depends on you sitting in your usual TV-viewing spot, so the soundbar can emit tones throughout its channels to match the room's acoustics and shape for best possible output. It does require you to do this five times, bizarrely, not just the once, then the headset is used and best put back in the box (unless you want to play out some additional fantasy adventures, whatever works for you).
Sound Quality & Dolby Atmos
- 5.0.2 channel output (expandable to 7.1.2 with optional subwoofer and rear speakers)
- ADAPTiQ headset for audio calibration
- Dolby Atmos object-based decoding
The most critical thing about any soundbar is how it sounds though. There's multiple levels to that with this Bose, because we've found it adept as a living room speaker - setup over Wi-Fi, for example, AirPlay 2 is also available - or even as a Bluetooth source for music. It's physically wide, so its front stereo soundstage is fantastic.
As a soundbar it's even more multi-faceted, able to handle Dolby Atmos audio sources, to further enhance your TV viewing experience. Dolby Atmos, which is an object-based format, delivers output to upfiring channels - here in addition to the usual front centre/left/right and side left/right channels - for a more encompassing sound. You won't ever feel like sound it truly behind you, as it isn't, but as an enhanced immersive experience it's a definitive step forward form the norm.
However, as there's no additional subwoofer or speakers in the box - you can buy them as accessories, if you have a fat enough wallet anyway - you're not going to get the lowest of lows rumbling away without paying out extra. If you've got neighbours through a wall, however, we doubt that you'll care: we find the Soundbar 900's bass output to be more than ample, far beyond what almost any TV set could produce.
As an overall output, there's a great sense of musicality to this Bose soundbar. It's very good at separating those higher frequencies, outputting them with punch and sparkle, while delivering a soundstage with good height too. If you find your TV's standard sound is quite 'low down' - and this is something lower quality soundbars can suffer - then the Bose gives a great solution for that situation.
Technically speaking the Bose soundbar is a 5.0.2 channel system (the '0' as there's no sub, the '2' for the upfiring speakers), but you can make it a 7.1.2 channel system with all the added extras. This isn't something we've tried in our setup, as we don't have the additions, but the wired ports on the 'bar are designed to add on the two rear channels (the side ones remain 'virtual', as output by the soundbar at the front of the room), and the central subwoofer.
It's a nice idea to be able to expand in a modular fashion - 5.1.2 is also possible with just the sub, for example - but the overall cost is pretty phenomenal, by which point you'd be better off just buying a Samsung HW-Q950T setup instead (a 9.1.4 that's even more immersive - especially if you happen to have a Samsung telly with Q Symphony, which can pair with the TV's speakers in addition for added wall-of-sound output).
Perhaps the best-looking soundbar on the market right now - Bose is clearly taking the fight to Sonos - the aesthetic is also its downfall, given the reflective nature of the glass top. Still, this model is a notable improvement on the outgoing 700 model thanks to a much richer soundstage through upfiring speakers and Dolby Atmos support.